Tag Archives: The Masque of the Red Death

The Masque of the Red Death

Read John 3:16-21

“How long, you simpletons, will you insist on being simpleminded? How long will you mockers relish your mocking? How long will you fools hate knowledge? Come and listen to my counsel. I’ll share my heart with you and make you wise.”  (Proverbs 1:22-23, NLT)

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of Gothic Horror, and especially a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe. There are so many Poe stories and poems that have caught my fancy throughout my life. The Raven, Annabel Lee, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, The Black Cat, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Facts in the Case of M. Vademar, are some of my favorites.

Another favorite not mentioned above is The Masque of the Red Death. This story has a special place in my heart because it speaks a truth that is timeless. Especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, where countless deaths could have been prevented, this story is one that is sure to hit home for just about everyone. There is no doubt that, while Poe’s story takes place in some medieval fiefdom, it is just as relevant and timely now as it was in his day.

Poe was a master storyteller and The Masque of the Red Death is a parable that teaches us this truth: Death is the great leveller. In death, truly all human beings are equal. All human beings, no matter whether they are rich or poor, healthy or sick, ruler or ruled…all human beings are equal in the monstrous jaws of death.

For some, this may be a morbid tale; however, for those who suffer injustice and oppression, this is a liberating tale. In it, Poe tells of the “Red Death” sweeping over the land and killing countless people. This plague would cause people to bleed from all orifices, including their poors. Alongside of the bleeding came sudden dizziness and sharp pains. Within a half-hour of contracting the plague, the victim was dead.

By the time this plague had ravaged the land, with 50% of the population dead, Prince Prospero decided to hold a huge ball in which he invited all of the rich and wealthy nobles to come to one of his palaces. Upon their arrival, he had the doors welded and hammered shut so that nothing could come in or out. He then held a great masquerade, celebrating their wealth, power and protection from the Red Death. The masquerade was lavish, opulent, and even disgusting in it’s gaudy and irreverent nature. It was an free-for-all in excess. While Poe doesn’t articlate this, the Roger Corman adaptation with Vincent Price rightly has Prince Prospero declaring one rule for the entirety of the masquerade: “Nobody is to wear red.”

Of course, upon the striking of midnight, a mysterious masquerader shows up to the scene. He’s someone that no one noticed until that very moment and, as if in mockery of the whole opulent masquerade, he is dressed in red. Upon closer examination, his clothes are spoted in blood and his mask/face is that of a dead corpse. Outraged, Prospero waves off the music, the festivities pause, and he charges at the red figure with a drawn dagger. At that moment, the figure turns at Prospero who stops dead, literally, in his tracks, cries out in horrid agony and drops dead face-first on the floor.

Then the attendants rush over to attack the figure in red and the seize him and tear away his cloak and mask only to find that there is no physical figure beneath it.  One by one, the revellers drop dead of the Red Death and all of the halls are sprinkled and speckled with blood. “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

This parable should be a warning to us all, especially those of us who are more privileged than others. Just because we can does not mean we should. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic I have seen leaders, and those supported said leaders, defying common sense, precautionary measures, such as wearing masks and social distancing. Many selfish people have stomped their feet, crying foul over their “rights” being infringed. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of this deadly virus.

Sadly, even government officials have proven to not be immune from COVID-19. From the president, to White House Staffers, to the Senate and House of Representative, to even political figures such as Herman Cain, have contracted this virus. Sadly, that cost Mr. Cain his life. But it didn’t stop there. CNN host Chris Cuomo caught it and suffers from Long Hauler Syndrome, as have other media personalities, Broadway and Hollywood actors, musicians, and virtually people from every elite place in society.

Poe’s parable reminds us that death is the great leveller. No human being can defy nor avoid death. It comes for us all at some point. Whether a virus, an infection, a heart attack, a stroke, or old age, death is something we all will experience and go through. There is no hope for escaping it.

That said, those who place their faith in Jesus Christ, who CONQUERED DEATH, will experience new and eternal life beyond death. The question for us is this: do we look to ourselves, our wealth, our status, and our arrogant pride to protect us from death, or do we look toward Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, to rescue us from the death we will inevitably experience? Prince Prospero, and those like him, made a mockery of Jesus Christ, sought their own means of salvation, and ultimately realized that approach was an EPIC FAIL. Let us not make the same mistake.

“Pale Death beats equally at the poor man’s gate and at the palaces of kings.” – Horace

Lord, help me to abandon seeking my own salvation and, instead, to humbly turn to you for salvation. Amen.